If you haven’t heard of Cecilie Bahnsen yet, it’s time to put her on your radar for 2020. Responsible for some of fashion’s prettiest dresses, the Copenhagen designer is among a new breed of fashion talent redefining what Scandi style looks like.
Far from the stark, minimalism we associate with Scandinavia, Bahnsen’s best-known looks are romantic, voluminous dresses made in beautiful fabrics that manage to be pretty but never saccharine. Since launching her own brand in 2015, she has become Denmark’s most decorated designer and in 2017 was selected as a finalist for the LVMH Design Prize. This season, Dover Street Market—Bahnsen’s first ever stockist—gave the label its first dedicated space—high praise indeed.
Lighter than Simone Rocha and less avant-garde than Comme des Garcons, but with similar focuses on voluminous shapes and romance, Bahnsen’s signatures are femininity, sculpted shapes and unusual textures.
“We’ve had a long time with athleisure, sportswear and masculine styles, so maybe a lot of designers are reacting against that,” she says of the rise of romance in fashion. “I feel feminine and beautiful in a dress… It’s about finding femininity and beauty in a new way.”
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The designer could be compared to Molly Goddard in terms of pretty pink dresses (her Dover Street Market space is next to Goddard), but Bahnsen’s simple lines and understated embellishment make her stand alone.
“The architecture and the sculptured lines are very Scandinavian—they’re part of my heritage,” says Bahnsen. “The romance came from working in Paris and London. That combination has just become stronger from season to season. It’s a constant balance of seeing the clothes on a mannequin and putting on and pulling off. For me, it’s about the balance of utilitarian accents with femininity.”
The designer was just 12 when she decided she wanted to be a designer. After realising that fashion design was a real job during an internship at the Danish Design School (where she later studied), she made it her goal to crack the industry. Following her degree, she began a work experience placement at John Galliano, which led to a full-time job as an assistant and print designer. After a year, she moved to London to do the Royal College of Art’s MA Fashion Design degree. Erdem, himself a RCA graduate, scouted Bahnsen and hired her as an assistant.
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“Both are very romantic brands inspired by history,” says Bahnsen. “Galliano influenced me in the way he would push every idea to the limit—it was very much about the process. For me, to be pushed so far from my Scandinavian background was a good thing. It’s definitely shaped me.”
One of the facets that sets the designer apart is her use of fabrics, be it organza or jacquard, which not only create volume, but also a sense of modernity. Jacquards are sourced in Italy and lace in Switzerland, but others are developed and created in her Denmark studio.
“What you get from this brand is the texture and a lightness,” she says. “These pieces weigh nothing, but the textures bring volume and movement. When I wear one of these dresses, I walk differently. You become more aware of yourself when you have a big bouncy skirt on.”